Deadly Egyptair hijacking in Malta recalled
Today marks the 24th anniversary since the landing in Malta of a hijacked Egyptair Boeing 737 aircraft - an episode which ended with the death of 58 passengers two days later.
The tragedy started to unfold on a cold Saturday evening on November 23, 1985 when the aircraft was hijacked by the little-known Egyptian Revolutionary Organisation soon after taking off from Athens airport. A shootout took place in the air between the hijackers and a security guard, with the hijackers' leader being shot dead, as was the security guard.
The aircraft was diverted to Malta where it was parked in a secluded part of the airport. A request for fuel was denied. Negotiations started with then Prime Minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who rushed to the control airport but the hijackers quickly made their intentions clear when they started shooting passengers - starting with Americans and Jews, and throwing them off the aircraft. Some survived, including Jackie Pflug who miraculously survived a bullet in the head after a brain operation by Maltese surgeons, who were widely praised.
11 passengers and two injured flight attendants were allowed off the plane but the hijackers then threatened to kill a passenger every 15 minutes.
A request for intervention by the US Delta force was refused by the Maltese authorities and the aircraft was eventually stormed by Egyptian commandos.
It was a bungled attack. The commandos placed explosives under the aircraft's oxygen storage tank and the resultant blast turned the Boeing into a fireball. The commandos fired in a haphazard manner and tens of passengers died - from smoke inhalation or bullets.
One hijacker, Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq, was injured but survived and was only identified at St Luke's Hospital, where security officers had to intervene to prevent him being attacked by the Egyptian commandos there.
Rezaq was eventually tried and imprisoned in Malta and a diplomatic storm erupted when he was eventually released after serving his term. His flight to Africa was intercepted and diverted and Rezaq was arrested and flown to the United States, where he faced a fresh trial and was jailed for life.